Advocates of online privacy have been concerned with the latest privacy law changes voted on by Congress. As many recall, rules passed last year by the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) required Internet service providers (“ISPs”) to request permission from their consumers before collecting, using, or selling any information deemed personal. Specifically, these FCC rules prohibited the selling of personal user data without explicit consent from the consumer.
Now, under a new Congressional Review Act, Congress has decided to forego these resolutions. In a very close vote, 50-48, the Senate voted to overturn last year’s privacy laws, which would have prohibited ISPs from selling consumer data to third parties that include, but are not limited to, ad buyers, search engines, and analytics companies.
While Congress has defended their decision by claiming that the current FCC rules are confusing and unclear, Congress has yet to offer alternate resolutions that would protect consumer privacy. Congress is not alone in this argument, however, as the telecommunications industry has also argued that the FCC guidelines are unfair as written because they give unfair business advantages to technology companies that are not governed by the FCC.
Presently, it is unclear when the House of Representatives will review the bill, but if the House also decides to overturn the FCC privacy rules, the decision would then flow up to President Trump. If the White House were to agree with overturning such rules, these changes would also prevent the FCC from reinstating similar privacy rules in the future.
Without strong consumer-privacy rules in place, technology giants such as Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast are not only free to track the personal user data of consumers, but they are also allowed to freely share the personal information with third parties. Notably, however, web companies such as Facebook and Google are exempt from such restrictions. Since mobile and broadband providers were reclassified as “common carriers” last year, these companies came under the supervision of the FCC instead of the FTC.
In response to such criticism, current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai explains that the main impetus in voting to overturn the regulations is because he believes that, as written, the current rules are unclear and make the FCC and FTC’s regulatory approaches too different to be effective.
Either way, if the consumer-privacy rules are rolled back, many experts in the field fear that it is only a matter of time before other legal regulations designed to ensure net neutrality are affected. As such, in the meantime, practioners must ensure that clients have the proper privacy safeguards in place. Similarly, practioners and business owners alike are encouraged to keep an eye on the everchanging legal landscape of FTC/FCC privacy guidelines.